By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian
On Friday, students at North Marion High School were exposed to a new sport that can change lives.
Raul Alarcon, who is from Temuco, Chile, spent all day Friday telling students about his home country and explaining and demonstrating slacklining.
Silvia Luna, who is in her third year teaching Spanish at North Marion, is organizing a different special activity with her classes each week in celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which started Sept. 15 and runs through Oct. 15.
“Kids not only have to learn the language in a classroom, but they need to learn the culture, meet people,” said Luna, who is from Caracas, Venezuela, and has been in West Virginia since 1991.
She said students need exposure to all aspects of Spanish, and she always teaches them about music, dance and other pieces of the culture.
This week, she invited Alarcon, who is the son of her good friend and Preston High School Spanish teacher Ivette Puagh, to visit with her students as well as the physical education classes.
He provided opportunities for the young people to ask questions in Spanish and learn about the balance and physical aspects of a sport that isn’t well-known here.
Luna said Alarcon showed the students at North Marion that “nothing is impossible.”
“I’m glad that my students can see someone from Chile with a sport that is popular in Chile and new here,” she said.
Alarcon, a 27-year-old professional slackliner who is sponsored by Wallaroo Slacklines, moved to this area from Chile a month ago. In October 2010, he got involved in the sport, which is very popular in places like Chile, Argentina and Brazil. He said slacklining has evolved in recent years and is spreading all over the world.
When Alarcon left his country, he wanted to do something that people would remember. No one was involved in slacklining in West Virginia, but he started motivating kids to try the sport, and many of them are now “like pros,” he said.
“I feel very proud,” Alarcon said.
In this sport, a piece of flexible webbing is extended between two anchor points, like the trees used in the North Marion’s yard. Alarcon said a person has to start with a very low slackline, and the first step is getting to know the line and how to control it. After mastering that ability, the slackliner can start doing tricks by bouncing and getting into positions over the line.
There are different disciplines of the sport, which can be done between buildings and canyons and over water using long lines. Slacklining has no limits, he said.
“I like the freedom, because it’s you and the line, nothing else,” Alarcon said. “You get to know your body, your weak points, and you start to try to (improve) those weaknesses.”
He is working to start a community where people in the state can learn this sport, and created a “Slackline Farm” near Morgantown where everyone can practice. He formed a group called West Virginia Slackline, which can be found on Facebook, and encourages people to join. Alarcon also has a YouTube page at youtube.com/raulalarconojeda.
“I’m trying to invite people to learn and do something else that’s very helpful in life, because it’s not just only a sport, it’s like therapy and it keeps you balanced,” he said.
Alarcon said slacklining connects the mind and body and teaches control. If a person falls off the slackline, they get up and try again, just like in life.
The sport can be beneficial for many different kinds of people, from children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to the elderly and everyone in between, he said.
“I love it, so I have to keep on doing it,” he said. “Nothing’s going to stop me.”
In fact, he’s training to go to the Slackline World Cup.
An eight-episode documentary called “SlackON,” sponsored by EpicTV, is being created about slacklining in Temuco, Chile. Every three weeks, a new chapter appears on epictv.com. Alarcon said “SlackON” is already getting a lot of viewers and keeps growing.
Email Jessica Borders at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.